Tyre degradation: positive or negative?

As F1 fans across the globe continue to debate what is required to rejuvenate the sport, Top Gear posted the results of a number of polls in a recent article, which indicated which way fans are leaning in regards to a number of key topics.

In a collection of results which largely portrayed the lack of consensus among F1’s audience, it was rather surprising to see that 75% of the sample believed that Pirelli had ventured down a slippery slope with their tyre philosophy. High degradation has seemingly been a concept that many fans have taken issue with.

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Image Credit: Joseph Brent (via Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0]

First and foremost, it is crucial to remember that in developing tyres that degrade quickly, Pirelli have simply fulfilled the requirement of the governing body. As such, any criticisms of the era of degradation should not be aimed at the Italian manufacturer.

Pirelli entered the sport on the back of Bridgestone, who developed tyres which were durable and allowed the drivers to lean on their rubber without fear of nearing the end of the life of the compound. The infamous “cliff” of tyre life is a concept only as old as Pirelli’s tenure in the sport.

A concept which many fans resent. With tyre preservation being essential to success on race day, drivers have recently been racing at a pre-determined pace, dictated by meeting a desired stint length, as oppose to pushing on the limit each and every lap. Many argue that it removes an element of skill from racing.

It is this relentless speed over the course of a Grand Prix which the very same fans cite as an exciting feature, the absence of which is to the detriment of the spectacle. However, this argument does overlook key elements.

Firstly, the age where tyres were durable failed to inspire fascinating racing. The one stop event, which is lamented today, was common practice during Bridgestone and Michelin’s time in the sport. While refueling introduced a much needed dynamic to spice up strategy, it also led to the majority of race defining moves occurring in pit boxes rather than on track.

With refueling gone, Pirelli’s input has been the only element preventing processional one-stop races from becoming normality.

In addition, many fans would argue that 2012 provided the most entertaining season in recent memory. The action was unpredictable, with seven different winners in the first seven races and strategy was complex, but enthralling nonetheless. Tyres were at the center of it all, with rubber throwing a double six nearly every weekend.

It would be intriguing to poll the 75% of people who deem high degradation as a negative for the sport and ask them to assess whether Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel and Ricciardo is a list of race winners long enough for a two year period. Of course, a number of other factors have dictated the predictability since 2012, but a more cautious approach from Pirelli, resulting in more one-stop races and less strategic confusion, has played a supporting role.

It seems that some are searching for a sport where tyre degradation is low, allowing drivers to push 100% for 90 minutes, but avoid one-stop processional races. Ultimately, the concepts are mutually exclusive. Looking through the history of the sport, creating an entertaining spectacle is much easier with mixed-up strategy rather than drivers pounding around at V-Max for lap after lap.

Besides, that’s what qualifying has always been about, right?

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